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The Ah-Choo Pastry of Girona

So where were we? Ah yes, the xuixo. This one’s great for 2020, as it’s connected to a plague outbreak in Girona, Catalonia. As the story goes, several cases of plague occurred along the Carrer de l’Argenteria, a street in the city’s mercantile district, where local silversmiths were known to live and work. It wasn’t long before the locals found out about them and decided to barricade the ends of the street, then board up the back doors and windows of the row houses to keep the infected in their homes. This had something of a negative effect on morale in the neighborhood.

To help relieve the boredom and despair along the Argenteria, a young fellow who called himself El Tarlá began to cavort and caper about the center of the street, doing tricks and telling jokes in an attempt to keep the locals entertained for the duration of the outbreak. He became something of a local celebrity. Indeed to this day his antics are commemorated in Girona, where a large life-size likeness of him is suspended from a pole and made to flip and tumble with the turn of a crank.

So how do we get from there to a pastry? OK well, stay with me as things get a little hazy here. Evidently it was somewhere around this time that El Tarlá became infatuated with the daughter of a local baker. The two would steal away to a corner in the bakery’s storeroom where they’d play kissy-face in secret, at least until one day when the baker entered the storeroom, kicking up a small cloud of flour. The flour caused Tarlá to sneeze — xuixo! (choo-CHO!).

The sneeze gave the couple away, and as the legend has it, the baker was none too pleased to find his daughter making out in his basement with a street performer. I confess that wouldn’t exactly thrill me, either. By way of apology, Tarlá promised to marry the girl right away. Which went nowhere, so he sweetened the deal by offering to give the baker an ultra-secret pastry recipe that would make him rich. Where Tarlá got the recipe and why he didn’t use it himself to become rich is never explained, but questions like that are rarely asked in these sorts of fables.

And that in a nutshell is the origin story of the xuixo. How likely is it? Plot inconsistencies aside, not very. The last major outbreak of the plague in Spain was in 1653. Xuixos, being made of croissant dough, are members of the viennoiserie family of breads and pastries, which didn’t become popular outside of the Austrian Empire until 1839. More than that, laminated croissants, i.e. croissants made of puff pastry-like dough as xuixos are, didn’t come along until the early 1900’s. Which more or less matches with what I’ve found out about these pastries so far, i.e. that they weren’t really “a thing” in Catalonia until the 1920’s.

But hey, stories are nice. And a good deal more fun than the actual histories of these sorts foods, which are generally quite hazy and dull. But what’s more fun to tell, a story about some anonymous French baker who, hoping to make some money on the hot new laminated croissant craze, moved across the border into Spain where he gave it a new twist by deep frying it? Or one that’s got a plague, an acrobat, a pretty baker’s daughter, sex in a storeroom, and a floury, dead giveaway sneeze? Hardly even a contest.

4 thoughts on “The Ah-Choo Pastry of Girona”

  1. I missed your baking folklore stories while you were away! Thank you for bringing them back.

  2. Oh my, i can´t believe you are back!
    And with xuixos, from my country lol, we called them ‘chuchos’ and they were one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten.
    I have to say here in many areas of Spain, when I was a kid, they used to make croissant dough with lard instead of butter. And croissants and xuxos were DELICIOUS. Now there are few places when you can eat a good croissant, not because of lard or butter, but because of all the other stuff they add to them, some weird ‘fats’ or ‘oils’ and additives, they taste like nothing. But I am fortunate to have a place where they make excellent lardy croissants and another one where they make excellent butter croissants. I am lucky lol.
    I used to have a recipes blog but I did not go far with it. I just started a new one yesterday lol, though nothing to do with recipes .A pleasure to read your blog again!

    1. Lovely to be in touch again, Sara!

      Yes, the kind of lard you need to make croissant dough doesn’t exist in the US anymore, unless you make it yourself. Which I do…but almost no one else wants to smell up their house doing it! But I shall make a note of that, since Spain is one of the places that really embraced lard as a laminating fat. And I dig that.

      I’ll visit your blog. Please come back soon!

      – Joe

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